Friday, January 25, 2013

"What Is Love?"

What Is Love?

I posted above the link to the music video "What Is Love?" by Haddaway because the idea of love has been on my mind lately. This 1990's video is not the image of love that I picture, but this song pops into my head when I think of the word love nonetheless. This song reminds me of The Night At the Roxbury from the 1990's and from the skit that was performed at Catholic Heart WorkCamp (CHWC) this past summer. I guess it is forever drilled into my head because it was performed each week at CHWC and a running joke for the staff because most of the campers were not old enough to know the origins of this song (campers wanted to know where they could get this song..they thought it was a new and upcoming song).

Like I stated above, I do not really believe that this image of love is the reality of love, it is just funny. Through this volunteer year I have really questioned the idea of love because the word love has always been a difficult word to grasp. Society quantifies the word love as a materialistic idea that surrounds sex, kisses, and  infatuation. However, these ideas are empty and eventually fade which is noted in any psychology of close relationships or textbook. Real love has nothing to do with romance because romance fades, friendship remains forever. Studies have shown that romantic relationships last when couples have a basis of friendship. So what is love then if it is not filled with false principles of romance?

I do not have many adjectives to describe love because I have a difficult time thinking about it in terms of a romantic love. Rather love can occur when any two people are interacting or even on a greater societal level. Love is an ever evolving thing that is tested through action and resembles caring. I see love as an ongoing action; love is not an adjective. I read some excerpts by Dorothy Day recently who discussed the idea of love personified in the world. Dorothy saw love in the soup kitchen and in the Catholic Worker house on a daily basis. Below I am going to list some quotes that I noted as I read her book By Little and By Little:

"Love and ever more love is the only solution every problem that comes up. If we love each other  we will bear  with each other's faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much."-Dorothy Day

"We are saving the seed of love, and we are not living in the harvest time."-Dorothy Day

"We cannot ever see our brothers in need with out first stripping ourselves. It is the only way we have of showing our love."-Dorothy Day

"So an act of love, a voluntary taking on oneself of some of the pain of the world increases the courage and love and hope of all."-Dorothy Day

"We are put on earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love."-William Blake quoted in Dorothy Day's reading

"Yes, we fail in love, we make judgement's and we fail to see that we are all brothers, we all are seeking love, seeking God, seeking the beatific vision."-Dorothy Day

"When there is no love, put love, and you will find love."-St. John of the Cross quoted in Dorothy Day's reading

"The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love."-Dorthy Day

"Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them"-Dorothy Day

"Love is indeed 'harsh and dreadful thing' to ask of us, of each of one of us, but it is the only answer."-Dorothy Day

"We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and love comes with community."-Dorothy Day

As I was reading these excerpts, the theme of love was being expressed in the daily Catholic readings. Here are a couple quotes that caught my attention:

"Whoever does not love remains in death...If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth."-1 John 3:11-21

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins."-1 John 4:7-10

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love."-1 John 4:11-18

These readings made sense to me through my experience as a full-time volunteer. As some of you know, I struggle with some of the rules and beliefs of the Catholic Church but through Dorothy Day's writings I was able to finally relate to Catholicism in a way I never thought about, through the love of humanity, especially marginalized humanity. This is how I see my faith and love of God through my love for others. I know that some of the guests see my love because they tell me, "Your smile makes me feel comfortable and shows me that you care" or "It seems like you have been here for 5 years because you show such love and care for us here" or "I feel so comfortable around you, like you are really listening". These are all examples of love personified and understood through the eyes of the guests but at the same time I know I struggle to love.

It is difficult to see love some days especially when a guests is being manipulative and needy. The past couple of weeks have been frigid and most of the guests are without outerwear. Over the holiday season the soup kitchen received a huge influx of gloves, hats, scarves and coats to give out to the guests. I readily gave out these items because they are better on someone then sitting in a pile upstairs. However, at the same time the same people were coming in each day and asking for the same items. I became annoyed by the neediness. Where was love in this neediness? Where is love in neediness? Neediness seems selfish. I reflected on my feelings later that day and was frustrated with my judgmental views because these people are LIVING OUTSIDE IN FREEZING WEATHER. The guests are needy because they have nothing else. I was being selfish and close-minded. The reason they do not keep up with their things is because there is no place for them to store them because they do not go home into a house or into a room in a building that they can lock and call it their own. They have grocery bags, grocery buggies, carts, and bikes that carry their belongings. People are always around them because they are outside with zero protection.Others can easily steal their coats, gloves, hats, or scarves. So if I have to give them 10 pairs of gloves in one week, then so be it. This is where I have found love, in understanding the characteristics of poverty. Love does not judge, rather love creates understanding.

As quoted above by Dorothy, "Yes, we fail in love, we make judgement's and we fail to see that we are all brothers, we all are seeking love, seeking God, seeking the beatific vision." We constantly fail in love but when one understands that we are all the same, part of humankind, the power of love overcomes. I think Dorothy Day struggled with love everyday because she experienced the same feelings on a regular basis at the soup kitchen. She often spoke about not being able to respond to the guests remarks about sleeping in the cold because she has a place to sleep and can make no comparable complaints. So on this day let us strive for love, love as human for other humans.

*This blog is a very vulnerable thing for me to write about due to the content of love, so please no harsh judgments.  I only write these words so that we can all try to understand the real meaning of love in our everyday lives.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"A Change Is Gonna Come"

I believe that there is a song that relates to almost any life circumstance and this blog has supported that idea as well. This time the song I am speaking about is Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" which I first discovered through a rendition by Ben Sollee who I thought was the original performer of the song. I will share both links below to videos of each artist's version; both are very well done.

Sam Cooke

Ben Sollee

This song refers to the Civil Rights and the changes that were  on the brink of occurring in society. In my own life this song relates to a new year and a new time as a full-time volunteer at Franciscan Outreach Association. I have been a full-time volunteer for almost 6 months now, meaning I have made this place my home and settled in to my surroundings and working environment at the soup kitchen and in the city of Chicago. I am starting to look forward to opportunities that exists after my year of volunteer service is over. I am looking into non-profit jobs here in Chicago and keeping a sense of openness to my future. At the same time I am trying to stay focused on the here and now. When one settles in though, new changes occur that vary from  the onset of my volunteer year such as learning to love the mundane and finding meaning in everyday work.

This has not been a difficult task since the winter has brought about new changes in the behavior of the guests. Some of the guests suffer from mental health problems and the cold has caused an increase in more intense mental health symptoms. There have been more outbursts, more arguments, more delirium, more hallucinations, and confusion of reality. Many of the guests though, will never complain about the circumstances about living on the streets in the dead of a Chicago winter, but I can still see the worn and weathered look on their face when they come to dinner. When I ask how they are, I mostly only receive positive responses. It is difficult to be in this cold weather indoors, but to hear positive responses causes me to maintain a positive attitude in challenging circumstances. Thus, the gloomy weather has been less bothersome then I anticipated. I have remained rather happy and try to find happiness from the experiences with the guests. Moreover I have a bicycle that I ride in the city and carry up and down steps at the soup kitchen and when leaving the train. Sunday evening I was on my way out for the evening because it was my day off and one of the guests saw me pull my bike out of the soup kitchen and mumbled to himself and walked away. I stayed in the lobby for a couple minutes talking to some other guests about my bike and when I walked outside I realized this guest was waiting for me by the steps. I asked if he was waiting to carry my bike up the steps because he had done this for me on a previous occasion  He responded that carrying my bike was the least he could do for me since we have given him so much. The next day I was coming home with my bike off of the train and I ran into another guest who called my name out. He had just left the train as well and asked to take my bike down the steps. These instances remind me of the joy my job gives me everyday that is repaid in kindness from the guests I serve. I guess the saying is true, kindness begets kindness.

The soup kitchen as a unit has been experiencing an influx of guests since the beginning of the new year due to the closure of a nearby soup kitchen. We are used to serving about 80-110 guests each evening with less in the beginning of the month and more at the end of the month because their government checks are depleted from the beginning of the month. However, we have been experiencing numbers of about 110-130 guests each night since this other soup kitchen closed. I am thankful that we are able to serve these new guests but at the same time disorder from the old system has occurred  For instance, we let women, children, couples, and the physical disabled into the dining hall first and then we take the remaining numbers. The new guests do not understand this system and have been bum-rushing the door outside of the building and outside the dining hall. There has been more tension because there is less time to enjoy the company of the guests sitting at the same table because we need for guests who are finished eating to leave so that another person has an opportunity to eat. We are trying to change the system to meet the needs of the guests and allow for more time to fit in all of these people without causing problems or changing the routines that the guests are used to and look forward to.

This sunny brisk cold morning brought about changes that can only be seen as a gift. I saw a guests today for the first time since the end of August. We always say that when a guests disappears it is for good measures and that they are getting back on their feet or that something bad has happened. I was very glad to see this guests who was always jovial and comedic. I remember once he told me, "rats are the rabbits of the city". Another guests shared news with me that he will be entering rehab on Friday to fight his addiction of cocaine and alcoholism. He leaves Friday and hopes to be there for a year. I told him that I hope not to see him after tomorrow and that I am proud of this next step in his life.

A change is gonna come and that is the only stable thing I can expect out of every single day in a world that is unstable and broken.

A New Way of Celebrating the Holiday

Holiday Blog

My last blog entry was posted with my volunteer program!!